Migraines More Common in Women Due to Estrogen Levels

Migraines More Common in Women Due to Estrogen Levels

by Suchitra Chari on Aug 14 2018 6:28 PM
Listen to this article

  • Estrogen and other sex hormones could be the reason why women get more migraine than men
  • The sex hormones affect the cells around a sensory nerve and the blood vessels connected to the nerve in the head
  • The study could contribute to better-personalized medicine for migraine therapy in the future
The reason why women get more migraines than men could be sex hormones. Recent research has revealed that sex hormones affect cells around the trigeminal nerve and connected blood vessels in the head. To top the list is estrogen which is particularly important for making the cells sensitive to triggers that cause migraines. This finding could create a new path for scientists to develop personalized treatments for migraine patients. The trigeminal nerve is responsible for sensation in the face and motor functions such as biting and chewing.
"We can observe significant differences in our experimental migraine model between males and females and are trying to understand the molecular correlates responsible for these differences," explains Professor Antonio Ferrer-Montiel from the Universitas Miguel Hernández, Spain. "Although this is a complex process, we believe that modulation of the trigeminovascular system by sex hormones plays an important role that has not been properly addressed."

The study has been published online on Aug 14, 2018, in the journal, Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences.


Ferrer-Montiel and his team reviewed decades of literature on sex hormones, migraine sensitivity and the responses of the cells to migraine triggers to identify the role of specific hormones.
  • While the hormone testosterone seems to protect against migraines, another hormone called prolactin appears to make migraines worse. They cause the ion channels that are present on the cell surfaces more or less vulnerable to migraine triggers. Ion channels usually control the reactions of the cells to outside stimuli.
  • Estrogen and changes in estrogen levels sensitize the cells around the trigeminal nerve to stimuli. That makes it easier to trigger a migraine attack.
  • Estrogen has been considered a risk factor for migraines since the condition prevails more in menstruating women and during period-related changes in hormone levels.
However, Ferrer-Montiel says that since the role of estrogen and other hormones in a migraine is complex, the current work is preliminary and a lot more research is needed to understand it. He stresses on the need for longitudinal studies that focus on the relationship between menstrual hormones and migraines. Besides, the current work relies on in vitro and animal models that are tough to translate into human migraine sufferers.

Nonetheless, the authors see a promising future for migraine medication in their current findings. They plan to continue their research using pre-clinical, human-based models that better represent real patients.

"If successful, we will contribute to better personalized medicine for migraine therapy," he says.


Migraines typically cause a throbbing or a pulsing kind of pain that could be moderate to severe in degree. The pain is usually felt on one side of the head. The associated symptoms could be nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Migraines are more likely to occur in women, in people who have a family history of migraines, and those having medical conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, sleep disorders and epilepsy.

Migraines have a lot of triggers including stress, anxiety, fatigue, hormonal changes in women, certain foods and medications, and weather fluctuations.

Estrogen levels have been linked before with women who have a migraine history – these women were shown to have a faster decline rate of estrogen levels regardless of whether they had a migraine during that period cycle or not.

References :
  1. Maite Artero-Morales, Sara González-Rodríguez and Antonio Ferrer-Montiel., TRP Channels as Potential Targets for Sex-Related Differences in Migraine Pain" Cellular Biochemistry 14 August (2018)
  2. Migraine
  3. (